Like many women who can afford one, I’ve had an issue with eating since I was a kid. In the past, I used food as a weapon against my mum. She made some choices in life that I didn’t understand, so I protested them through food. We were raised vegetarians, and I hated vegetables. I was always the last one sat at the table, pushing sprouts around the plate, after having covertly yet forcefully given most of it to my siblings.
This was all during the 80s, when famine was rife in Ethiopia, and my mum was a fervent political activist. She would say to me, “Layla, think of the starving kids in Africa.” To be fair, at the time, saying stuff like that meant nothing to me. I’d spent time in Africa as a young child, hence my name, but I couldn’t relate to not having food. I couldn’t understand the meaning behind starving. Growing up in rural Dorset, I also didn’t know many Africans either.
Eventually, mum and I worked out some compromises. I would have a plate of raw vegetables, and attempt to eat whatever else she had kindly prepared. I was clearly bucking the raw-food trend way back! However, when I was 15, she was killed in an accident, thus those compromises all went out the window. Eventually, when my dad came to take care of us, a whole new litany of problems around food had already taken hold.
My dad couldn’t cook, let alone prepare us a balanced vegetarian diet, so we slowly but surely all started eating meat. Although he tried very hard to sustain us with goodness, I was beyond caring. Plus, he hadn’t been there for most of my life, thus had no authority to tell me what to do, and so I went it alone, and decided subconsciously to stop eating.
When life is unpredictable, irrational, and vulnerable to being punctured by tragedy, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that amongst the madness, we seek to control what is within our power. I chose food.
I moved to London when I was 18, and started working in the fashion industry. Clearly, my thinness was celebrated, envied and complimented on a daily basis. I already had body dysmorphia, and couldn’t see how unattractive my figure was. People definitely pointed it out, in fact most of my concerned family did, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe them, because I didn’t see it. I thought I looked alright, and was unaware of my bones jutting out and child-like frame. Plus, I wasn’t not eating enough because of what other people thought. Obviously being encouraged by the media and fashion industry to stay skeletal didn’t help, but it wasn’t for other people. It was for me.
It wasn’t until years later, when I started seeing people with eating disorders around that I realised I had emerged from the throws of my warped relationship with food. Before, unnaturally skinny people were invisible. Before, I thought I looked normal.
Last year, I got ill, so ill that I needed a trip to the hospital in Mexico as I was becoming delirious. I had lost a bit of weight by that point, but nothing too noticeable. I have never really had much weight on me to lose to be honest. The only time I had a little tummy was after my sister and I travelled New Zealand for a few months. We ate and drank a substantial amount and only realised our expansion when being weighed-in for the bungee jump. Even then, I wouldn’t be able to say I was rotund, or over-weight.
On recently returning to England from the Americas, having not seen most of my friends and family for a year, I have been met on numerous occasions with the same kinds of comments:
You’ve lost so much weight! You look amazing.
You’re so thin. You look great.
The reason I write this post is that being thin isn’t synonymous with great, or amazing, at least not in my case. I am sure these observations come from a place of love, but they are unhelpful. I have been very ill from some kind of parasite or amoeba, am still ill, and my weight loss is a result of that. Unfortunately, one of the hangovers from eating disorders is that they never quite go away. Food is always an issue, even if you pretend it isn’t. Again, I feel a perverted sense of control over my life, whilst oscillating in this current state of unknowing. In the Western world, as I cannot speak for the rest, it is encouraged for women to join the skeletal club. Well, I refuse. Give me back my curves!